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    TechEye: Why the snooping ex Google engineer is in trouble

    Earlier this week, it was revealed that Google had fired engineer “David Barksdale for breaking Google’s strict internal privacy policies.” Gawker alleged that Barksdale had abused his access privileges at the online services giant to stalk teenagers and spy on their chats. “He accessed contact lists and chat transcripts, and in one case quoted from an IM that he’d looked up behind the person’s back,” Gawker said.

    Now, TechEye has a report on the different laws that the Google engineer might have broken.

    The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) or Title 18 § 2511 of the United States Criminal Code would likely apply in this case.

    The law has a number of safe-harbor provisions but it is unlikely any of them apply here because the employee was obviously not acting in the “normal course of business,” he didn’t have any sort of “legitimate business purpose” for obtaining or disseminating the information he obtained, and he was not authorized either by the owner of the information, his employer or a law enforcement agency. […]

    Additionally, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) or Title 18 § 1301 which acts almost identically but only applies to minors under the age of 13.

    It contains stiffer penalties and a few other differences but it sounds like the teenagers at issue in this case were outside the age limit although I’m not certain of that. Regardless, we should raise it as a possible law that Google may have violated since we obviously don’t know the full extent of what this individual did. […]

    California Penal Code Section 653.2 (part of CA’s broader anti-stalking provisions) makes it a crime to use “electronic communication to instill fear or harass.”

    The formal title of the law is “Use of electronic Communication to Instill Fear or to Harass” This might be a little harder to prove depending on the nature of the communications and whether they caused a “fear for safety” but there’s no reason not to throw it out there. Many other states have similar provisions. [California Penal Code Section 653.2, accessed 9/15/2010]

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